As the holiday season rolls in, an all-familiar feeling may be rushing over you right now. Between the cooler temps, shorter days and all those tasty holiday season treats, it can be hard to stay on top of your nutrition and fitness over the next few months. Maybe you’ve fallen off track in years past or maybe you’re worried you simply won’t have enough time to stay on top of your goals with all those holiday social engagements thrown into the mix. For instance, your usual Sunday meal prep time may be interrupted by a family get-together, or your typical post-work gym session may have to take a backseat to that company holiday happy hour.
We get it, it can feel overwhelming, but we spoke with Kaylee Jacks, a sports nutritionist at Texas Health Sports Medicine, for her insight on how to have your holiday fun and keep your nutrition and fitness goals as well.
Go Into the Season with a Plan
There are going to be days during the season where it’s more important that you are just present and enjoying time with friends and family. When you’re rife with worry thinking about how you’re missing a workout or how many calories Aunt Sharon’s green bean casserole has, you can’t be fully present. That’s why Jacks suggests looking ahead in anticipation of these days and planning accordingly.
“Identify the events that involve eating or drinking, or events that may cut into your time for physical activity and plan ahead,” she explains. “Can you change your schedule to get in physical activity and/or cut back on the duration? Can you have a nutrient-dense, healthy meal ahead of time to limit snacking and over-indulging on less healthful treats?”
On the days you don’t have any social events, Jacks suggests making a concerted effort to stick to your typical nutrient-dense, whole food meals and workout plan.
The Dos and Don’ts
That being said, Jacks notes it can be easy to get into an unhealthy cycle of overcompensation to “make up” for missed workouts or meals that may not be as nutritionally dense as you’re used to.
- Do Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables. 1/4th lean protein such as baked/grilled turkey, chicken, fish, lean ground beef, sirloin, or plant-based proteins such as black beans, edamame, and chickpeas. 1/4th quality carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables.
- Don’t try and overcompensate with over-exercise and restricting.
- Do eat with intention and intuition. Build your plate with proper portions, then sit and eat. Avoid casually snacking and munching without unknown portions while socializing or watching television.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you fall off track. Get back into your usual routine and focus on what you need such as water, vegetables, lean proteins and regular physical activity instead of focusing on cutting out the “bad” foods and habits.
- Do be mindful of empty calories in mixed drinks, alcoholic beverages, and even some alcohol-free drinks. Many holiday drinks are particularly sneaky high-calorie drinks, especially rich and creamy cocktails such as White Russians or egg nog (spiked or not). While light beers, wine are slightly lower in calories, or liquor that is either served neat or with a low-calorie mixer such as tonic water or seltzer, Jacks notes even low-calorie drinks can add up fast. Additionally, alcohol tends to increase appetite and lower inhibition, meaning you are more likely to overeat and choose less nutritious foods.
- Don’t treat the holidays as an “all or nothing” situation. The “all or nothing” idea encourages an unhealthy relationship with food. It can also leave one feeling lethargic, sick or moody. I say, allow for a moderate amount of less healthful foods at all events. All foods fit into a healthy diet and lifestyle; moderation and balance are key.
- Do have a glass of water. Whether it’s between drinks or 10 minutes before you head back to the kitchen for a second round of food, staying hydrated can help keep you feeling satiated and full and lower the inhibition-lowering effects of alcohol.
A little bit of effort and strategy can go a long way this holiday season and keep you on track with your nutrition and fitness goals. But Jacks highlights that while the holiday season can challenge your well-planned workout schedule and meals, you may benefit from giving yourself some grace this season and changing your focus.
“It is important to be mindful of healthy behaviors but enjoy the holidays as well,” she says. “Rather than stressing over ‘staying on track’ or ‘avoiding the dreaded holiday weight gain,’ focus on spending time with friends and family, time off work, and other hobbies you may not have time to do typically.
“Enjoy the holidays and the time to be with loved ones. Allow yourself time to enjoy less healthful foods but in moderation!”
From individual nutrition sessions to personalized meal plans, the sports dietitians at Texas Health Sports Medicine can help you take your nutrition to the next level. If you’re interested in taking your health and performance to the next level in the new year, click here to schedule an appointment.